In 2009 I made one of those discoveries that we readers live for: A new author whose books I loved. The author was Deanna Raybourn and the books were the first three in her series featuring Lady Julia Grey, a Victorian aristocrat who finds herself in circumstances she could never have imagined and discovers talents she never knew she had. And, of course, there is Nicholas, the most enigmatic —and intriguing — man she’s ever meant. I recommend the books — Silent in the Grave, Silent in the Sanctuary, and Silent on the Moor — to everyone who enjoys romantic historical mysteries.
Deanna Raybourn has a new historical mystery coming out on March 1. The Dead Travel Fast is not a Lady Julia Grey story, but instead is a stand-alone that represents a return to the classic Gothics so many of us remember with much fondness — it even takes place in a crumbling and mysterious castle in Transylvania. I loved it.
To celebrate the release, Deanna Raybourn took the time to answer a few of my questions. And, even better for 10 lucky readers, we’ve got 10 copies of The Dead Travel Fast to give away, thanks to the generosity of Mira. To enter for your chance to win a copy, all you need to do is comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, February 4th. The usual caveats apply: Due to high shipping costs, this contest is open only to U.S. and Canadian readers. And, since the giveaway is designed to get advance copies of books into the hands of readers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them, if you review for another Web site or blog, please don’t enter. Winners will be announced here on Friday morning.
Ready to hear from Deanna?
Deanna, thanks so much for joining us today. Could you please tell our readers a bit about the plot of The Dead Travel Fast?
Thanks for inviting me! The Dead Travel Fast is a mid-Victorian Gothic that follows the adventures of novelist Theodora Lestrange as she leaves her sedate life in Edinburgh for a crumbling castle in the Carpathians—and a nobleman who may or may not be a vampire…
I enjoyed the book so much and loved that it was a return to the kind of classic Gothic romances I devoured in my early teens. A mysterious, decaying castle; a brooding, enigmatic count; a growing chorus of whispering from the villagers about all sorts of terrible goings-on – the tension in the book builds so deliciously. There are shades, as well, of classic horror novels, including, of course, Dracula, since the book takes place in Transylvania in the mid 19th century. Did you have fun revisiting the Gothic formula?
I had a wonderful time! I grew up reading Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, M.M. Kay, so writing a classic Gothic was just tremendous fun. This book was a love letter of sorts to all of those writers who came before, from the Romantics who started the genre with their fog-shrouded mountains and chain-rattling ghosts, to every mid-twentieth century writer who used the phrase, “Had I but known…” I think Gothics occupy a soft spot for loads of readers who are deeply nostalgic about them, and I wanted to write a book that Gothic fans would enjoy. I twisted it a touch with the folklore and vampire themes, but I am very pleased that it is structurally a traditional Gothic—and that it reads that way!
The setting in The Dead Travel Fast almost seems to be a third major character. The people of Roumania are so dramatically different in their beliefs and attitudes than the Londoners many of us are far more familiar with in our reading about that I was constantly reminded that I was reading about very unique people in a very unique place. What do you think the unusual setting brought to the book? And did you get the chance to visit Roumainia?
I was actually planning a trip to Transylvania, and I was hugely disappointed to have to cancel it. The setting was absolutely essential to this book. It simply would not have been the same story if I had moved the action to London or Paris. I needed those grim mountains and shadowy forests to set the scene, and more importantly, I needed a heroine completely out of her element. What started me off with this book was a newspaper clipping describing how Transylvanian villagers exhumed a suspected vampire and performed an elaborate and gruesome ritual to bind him to his grave. It sounded like something entirely Medieval, but it was dated 2004. There are to this day places where the customs and beliefs I wrote about still exist, and that astonishes me. I also relied heavily upon Emily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest for my research. It’s a divine book, written from a British woman traveler’s perspective about Transylvania when very few people knew anything about the land or its people. I was actually able to get my hands on a first edition, the same printing Bram Stoker used when he was writing Dracula! Gerard made one or two errors regarding the language, but the book is absolutely riveting.
What do you like most about Theodora and Andrei?
For starters, I love how different they are from Julia and Nicholas. Theodora is a middle-class young woman who has to rely very much upon herself. She is resourceful and clever, and perhaps not quite as nice as Julia, and definitely not as scatty. Andrei is a force of nature. He is something of a rogue, but he has a tremendously vulnerable side as well. His smooth, mannered exterior is partly a reflection of his aristocratic upbringing, but it’s also a very useful tool for keeping people at bay. He is a man of many secrets—and perhaps even more questions—about himself and the legacy of his birthright.
Though The Dead Travel Fast is decidedly different from your previous books it also felt very much as if you were sticking to what you know and what readers expect from you in terms of style. In other words, I would have no trouble – no trouble at all – in recommending the book to everyone who enjoyed the Lady Julia Grey series. How do you think this one differs and, on the other hand, what do you see as the similarities?
One of the most difficult accomplishments for a writer is developing a distinctive voice, creating a narrative rhythm that is so unique a reader will know it’s your book without seeing your name on the cover. It took a lot of work and a lot of time to develop that voice for the Lady Julia Grey Series. Then when I went to write The Dead Travel Fast, I had to do it all over again! I loved the challenge. Both of my narrators are British women, but Julia is an aristocrat with a somewhat insouciant attitude. Theodora is much more serious and, since she is experiencing a culture that is entirely foreign to her, she’s a keen observer of what people are doing and why, and perhaps a little more thoughtful while Julia is more inclined to take action first and think later. My hope was to create a book that read differently from the series, but could still be enjoyed by someone who loves the Julia Grey books.
We always ask every author we interview at AAR about what’s up next. With you, I find myself craving reassurance: Do you intend to continue the fabulous story of Lady Julia Grey?
Absolutely—I just finished writing Dark Road to Darjeeling, the next installment in the series. It is set on a tea plantation in the foothills of the Himalayas, and Nicholas and Julia find themselves enmeshed in another investigation together, in spite of his attempts to shake her off! This book also sees the return of a few characters we haven’t seen for awhile, and introduces an arch-villain for the first time. It’s due out in October, and I cannot wait to share it with readers!
And this reader cannot wait to read it! Remember, to enter for your chance to win one of 10 advance copies, comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, February 4th. If you’re not one of the lucky winners, take heart! The Dead Travel Fast is available on March 1st.
– Sandy AAR